White Spirit: Toxicity, Physical Properties, and More

by Joost Nusselder | Updated on:  June 11, 2022
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White spirit (UK) or mineral spirits (US), also known as mineral turpentine, turpentine substitute, petroleum spirits, solvent naphtha (petroleum), varsol, Stoddard solvent, or, generically, “paint thinner”, is a petroleum-derived clear, transparent liquid used as a common organic solvent in painting and decorating.

A mixture of aliphatic and alicyclic C7 to C12 hydrocarbons, white spirit is used as an extraction solvent, as a cleaning solvent, as a degreasing solvent and as a solvent in aerosols, paints, wood preservatives, lacquers, varnishes, and asphalt products.

In this article, I’ll explain how white spirit is used and share some safety tips.

What is white spirit

Get to Know the Physical Properties of White Spirit

White spirit is a colourless liquid with no characteristic odour. This property makes it an ideal solvent for various applications, including paint thinning, cleaning, and degreasing.

Mixture of Chemicals

White spirit is a mixture of chemicals known as petroleum hydrocarbons. The exact composition of the mixture may vary depending on the type and grade of white spirit.

Density and Weight

The density of white spirit is around 0.8-0.9 g/cm³, which means it is lighter than water. The weight of white spirit depends on its volume and density.

Boiling and Volatility

White spirit has a boiling point range of 140-200°C, which means it evaporates quickly at room temperature. This property makes it a volatile solvent that can easily mix with air.

Molecular and Refractive Properties

White spirit has a molecular weight range of 150-200 g/mol, which means it is a relatively light molecule. It also has a refractive index range of 1.4-1.5, which means it can bend light.

Viscosity and Solubility

White spirit has a low viscosity, which means it flows easily. It is also a good solvent for many organic compounds, including oils, fats, and resins.

Reactivity and Reaction

White spirit is generally a stable chemical that does not react with most substances. However, it can react with strong oxidizing agents, such as chlorine and bromine.

Europe and Air Regulations

In Europe, white spirit is regulated by the REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorization, and Restriction of Chemicals) regulation. It is also subject to air pollution regulations due to its volatile nature.

White Spirit: The Swiss Army Knife of Solvents

White spirit, also known as mineral spirit, is a versatile solvent that has a wide range of uses. Some of the most common uses of white spirit include:

  • As a thinner for oil-based paints, varnishes, and waxes.
  • As a cleaning agent for brushes, rollers, and other painting tools.
  • As a degreaser for metal surfaces.
  • As a solvent for printing inks and liquid photocopier toners.
  • In industry, it is used for cleaning, degreasing, and substance extraction.

Why White Spirit is the Ultimate Cleaning Solution

White spirit is an excellent cleaning solution for a variety of reasons:

  • It is a powerful solvent that can dissolve and remove even the toughest stains and residues.
  • It evaporates quickly, leaving no residue behind.
  • It is non-corrosive and safe to use on most surfaces.
  • It is relatively inexpensive and widely available.

How to Use White Spirit for Cleaning

Here are some tips for using white spirit to clean:

  • For cleaning brushes and other painting tools, pour a small amount of white spirit into a container and soak the tools for a few minutes. Then, use a brush cleaner or soap to remove any remaining residue.
  • For degreasing metal surfaces, apply a small amount of white spirit to a clean cloth and wipe the surface clean.
  • When using white spirit, always work in a well-ventilated area and wear gloves to protect your skin.

White Spirit Toxicity: Understanding the Risks

White spirit, also known as mineral spirit or Stoddard solvent, is a commonly used solvent in various industrial and household applications. While it is an effective cleaner and degreaser, it is important to understand the potential health risks associated with its use.

Acute Toxicity

  • White spirit is classed as a toxic substance due to its acute toxicity, meaning it can cause harmful effects after a single exposure.
  • Ingestion of white spirit can lead to central nervous system depression, resulting in drowsiness, slowed coordination, and eventually coma.
  • Inhalation of liquid white spirit can cause severe lung damage called pneumonitis, which can occur if the liquid is inhaled directly into the lungs, for example, from inhaling vomit after swallowing white spirit.
  • Skin contact with white spirit can cause irritation and dermatitis.

Chronic Toxicity

  • Chronic toxicity refers to the harmful effects resulting from repeated or prolonged exposure to a substance over a long period of time.
  • Occupational exposure to white spirit has been linked to various health problems, including heart problems, memory and concentration issues, and increased irritability.
  • Studies have observed that painters who use white spirit for prolonged periods of time may be at risk of developing chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a neurodegenerative disease that can lead to disability and personality changes.
  • The Nordic Occupational Exposure Limit for white spirit is set at an average concentration of 350 mg/m3 over an eight-hour workday, indicating that prolonged exposure to high concentrations of white spirit can be harmful to human health.

Safety Precautions

  • To minimize the risk of white spirit toxicity, it is important to follow safety precautions when using the solvent.
  • Use white spirit in well-ventilated areas or enclosed spaces equipped with proper ventilation systems to prevent inhalation of the solvent.
  • Wear protective gloves and clothing to prevent skin contact with white spirit.
  • Avoid swallowing white spirit, and seek medical attention immediately if ingestion or aspiration presents.
  • If working with white spirit in the workplace, follow occupational health and safety guidelines to minimize exposure and risk of toxicity.

Using White Spirit from the DIY Store: What You Need to Know

Yes, you can use white spirit from the DIY store as a paint thinner or solvent. However, there are certain things you need to keep in mind before using it.

Why White Spirit May Not Be the Best Choice for You

White spirit is a popular solvent used to thin and remove paint, polish, and other materials. However, it can have a strong smell that can cause dizziness or nausea. Additionally, prolonged exposure to white spirit can result in contact dermatitis, making it a safety concern for regular use.

Alternative Products to Consider

If you want to avoid the downsides of white spirit, there are alternative products to consider. Some of these include:

  • Mineral spirits: A substitute for white spirit that is less toxic and has a milder odor.
  • Turpentine: A traditional solvent that is highly refined and used primarily in oil painting. It is known for its excellent ability to break down paint and polish.
  • Citrus-based solvents: A natural alternative that is fairly new to the market and highly recommended by experts. It consists of a mixture of citrus peel extracts and is safer to use than traditional solvents.

Differences Between White Spirit and Alternative Products

While white spirit is a popular choice for many, it is important to note that it is not the only option available. Here are some differences between white spirit and alternative products:

  • Mineral spirits are a safer choice for regular use and have a milder odor.
  • Turpentine is highly refined and typically used in oil painting, unlike white spirit which is used for a variety of materials.
  • Citrus-based solvents are a newer product that is highly recommended by experts for its natural properties and safety benefits.

Choosing the Right Solvent: White Spirit vs. Turpentine

When it comes to oil painting solvents, white spirit and turpentine are the two most common choices. While both can help achieve the proper consistency and dissolve tough bits of paint, there are some key differences to consider:

  • White spirit is made of petroleum distillate, while turpentine is made of natural resin extracted from trees.
  • White spirit is considered safer and less toxic than turpentine, but it’s also less powerful.
  • Turpentine is more sensitive to delicate and specific metal tools, while white spirit is tougher and easier to clean.
  • The choice between the two depends on your needs and the level of sensitivity of your work.

Choosing the Right Solvent for Your Work

When it comes to choosing between white spirit and turpentine, there are a few things to consider:

  • The type of paint you’re using: Some paints require a specific type of solvent, so make sure to read the manufacturer’s instructions carefully.
  • The level of sensitivity of your work: If you’re working on a delicate or specific area, turpentine might be the best choice. If you’re working on a tough or hard-to-reach area, white spirit might be easier to use.
  • The storage process: White spirit can be stored away without much damage, while turpentine needs to be placed in a tight and specific area to prevent damage or body harm.
  • The availability on the market: White spirit is more common and available on the market, while turpentine might require a bit more effort to find the pure and essential version.
  • The storage and usage needs: White spirit is easier to store and use, while turpentine requires a careful process and usage.

Preventing Damage and Achieving the Perfect Result

No matter which solvent you choose, there are a few things to remember to prevent damage and achieve the perfect result:

  • Check the type and grade of the solvent before mixing it with your paint.
  • Use the right amount of solvent to achieve the proper consistency.
  • Be careful when using the solvent, as it can affect the final result.
  • Clean your tools properly after usage to prevent any bits of paint from getting stuck.
  • Store the solvent away from any heat source or flame to prevent any fire hazard.

What to Do If You Come into Contact with White Spirit

White spirit is a common solvent used in consumer products such as paints and varnishes. If you accidentally come into contact with white spirit, here are some general tips to follow:

  • Protect yourself by wearing gloves, goggles, and a mask if possible.
  • If you have ingested white spirit, do not induce vomiting. Seek medical advice immediately.
  • If you have inhaled white spirit, move to a well-ventilated area and seek medical advice if you experience adverse health effects.
  • If white spirit has soiled your clothing, remove the clothing and wash with soap and water.
  • If white spirit comes into contact with your skin, wash the affected area with soap and water.
  • If white spirit comes into contact with your eyes, irrigate them with water for at least 15 minutes and seek medical advice.

Occupational Exposure

Those who work with white spirit in a professional setting should follow additional safety measures:

  • Ensure that the area is well-ventilated and that you are wearing appropriate protective equipment.
  • Be aware of safe exposure limits and ensure that they are enforced in your workplace.
  • If you have ingested or inhaled white spirit, seek medical attention immediately.
  • If white spirit has soiled your clothing, remove the clothing and wash with soap and water.
  • If white spirit comes into contact with your skin, wash the affected area with soap and water.
  • If white spirit comes into contact with your eyes, irrigate them with water for at least 15 minutes and seek medical advice.


So, that’s what white spirit is – a petroleum-based solvent used for cleaning and painting. It’s a perfect example of a non-hazardous substance that can be dangerous if used improperly. So, be careful and have fun with it!

I'm Joost Nusselder, the founder of Tools Doctor, content marketer, and dad. I love trying out new equipment, and together with my team I've been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with tools & crafting tips.